Electric-car Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ:TSLA) autopilot technology is already well beyond similar technology from other auto manufacturers. The California-based company's "Autosteer" is the only auto steering technology that works at highway speeds, and its autopilot can even change lanes with a tap of a blinker. Apparently, however, this technology isn't advanced enough for Tesla. The company is now ramping up its autopilot team "to achieve generalized full autonomy," according to a tweet last week by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Tesla: We need "hardcore software engineers"
"[T]he founding team had no intention of turning to Detroit for advice on how to build a car company," said author Ashlee Vance in biography Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, referring to the company's earlier years. The auto and energy storage company has remained just as stubborn as of late, with Musk admitting on several occasions that he pays little attention to what competitors are doing.
Tesla's persistence in carving its own path is probably most evident in the company's autopilot efforts. Rapidly rolling out the world's most advanced production-car autopilot features to its vehicle fleet, Tesla has suddenly leaped into a leading role for auto steering technology. And Tesla isn't slowing down. Asking for applicants to email Tesla, Musk says the company is "looking for hardcore software engineers" as it makes "generalized full autonomy" a "super high priority."
Should mention that I will be interviewing people personally and Autopilot reports directly to me. This is a super high priority.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 20, 2015
"No prior experience with cars required," Musk said on Twitter last week. "Please include code sample or link to your work."
From auto steer to autonomy
Tesla's autopilot technology today, which notably remains in "beta" mode, is built to work from highway on-ramp to highway off-ramp. Combining its Tesla 7.0 software with a combination of cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors, and precise GPS data, the vehicle can easily navigate the highway on its on its own. And the technology improves every week, thanks to Tesla's fleet learning technology.
While Tesla's current version of Autopilot reads speed limit signs and adjusts speed accordingly, it is not set up to work on roads with sharp turns, traffic lights, and stop signs. Addressing these limitations is probably what Musk is referring to on Twitter when he says the company is making it a priority to "achieve generalized full autonomy."
It's not clear whether Tesla wants to achieve generalized full autonomy with Model S's current hardware suite, or with a new and improved suite in future vehicles. However, Musk said in a question-and-answer session with press in October when Tesla announced it was rolling out autopilot features to its fleet that a future version of the autopilot would, indeed, take into account stop signs and traffic lights, suggesting the company may be planning another big step toward autonomy with the current hardware suite.
As Tesla pushes forward with autopilot and generalized full autonomy, regulations will increasingly come into focus. Musk has said he believes Tesla will achieve full autonomous driving in five or six years, but he also believes it will take another two or three years before regulators may approve autonomous driving. Tesla believes that data showing how autopilot and autonomous driving can dramatically reduce accidents will serve as a catalyst in regulatory approval.
Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.